What are blackheads
Blackheads look like tiny black needles on the skin, very much like hair. Blackheads can appear on the nose, chin and forehead – the T-zone and sometimes on the back. Blackheads are usually seen in groups.
What causes blackheads
Blackheads are caused when sebum (skin’s natural oil) gets accumulated in the pores, but the opening of the pore is not blocked. This material when it comes in contact with air, oxidizes and darkens in colour.
The difference between whiteheads and blackheads is that a whitehead, commonly known as a pimple, is filled with the same material, sebum, with the opening to the skin surface blocked. Since air cannot reach the follicle, the material is not oxidized, and remains white.
How to remove blackheads
Salicylic Acid to get rid of blackheads
Salicylic acid, also known as Beta Hydroxy Acid (BHA) works well to unclog pores and remove blackheads. Salicylic Acid is one of the best treatments to prevent blackheads. Salicylic acid can dry out the skin, so start with low concentration products.
Some salicylic acid face washes and scrubs available in India are: (these are just options available in the market, not recommendations as such)
- Saslic face wash (1% salicylic acid)
- Saslic DS (double strength 2% salicylic acid)
- Neutrogena Oil-Free Acne Wash (2% salicylic acid)
- Clean & Clear Pimple Clearing Face Wash
- Garnier Pure Active Pore Unclogging Wash
- Ducray Keracnyl Foaming Face Wash
- Clean & Clear Blackhead Clearing Daily Scrub
- Neutrogena Deep Clean Blackhead Eliminating Daily Scrub
- Living Proof Protective Micro Cell Scrub
- L’Oreal Paris GoClear Deep Exfoliating Scrub
- Garnier Pure Active Blackheads Uprooting Scrub
Toners and moisturizers with salicylic acid can help too, as they stay on the skin longer unlike face cleansers. Some toners / moisturizers with salicylic acid available in India are:
- Clean & Clear Skin Balancing Moisturizer Oil-free lotion
- Living Proof Multi Action Cell Treatment Toner
- Living Proof Live Cell Renewing Moisturiser
- Neutrogena Deep Clean Blackhead Eliminating Cooling Toner
- Vichy Normaderm 3-in-1 Unclogging Purifying Lotion
Alpha Hydroxy Acid Glycolic Acid for blackheads
Glycolic acid, a form of Alpha Hydroxy Acid (AHA) unclogs pores and removes dead skin cells. This in turn helps with blackheads. Glyco 6 (6% glycolic acid), Glyco-A (12% glycolic acid) by MICRO Labs are face creams containing glycolic acid. Glyaha lotion (not Glyaha-HQ) by Shalaks Pharma is a lotion containing 10% glycolic acid.
Other options are Decroma-6 by Ranbaxy and Golic both with 6% glycolic acid.
Glycolic acid even in low concentrations can cause irritation, reddening and skin damage if not used properly. Read how to use glycolic acid cream.
If you want to ease into glycolic acid products, a safe try could be AHAGLOW face wash which contains just 1% glycolic acid. This is usually good enough to achieve skin peeling and lighten acne marks over a couple of months. Another glycolic acid face wash in India is Keracnyl which contains about 4% glycolic acid. Read reviews of AHAGLOW and Keracnyl.
All the glycolic acid products mentioned here are available in Indian medical stores.
Benzoyl Peroxide for blackheads
Benzoyl Peroxide is supposed to help with blackheads, but it doesn’t do a very good job of it.
The most popular benzoyl peroxide gel in India seems to be Benzac-AC gel (Galderma) which is available in 2.5% and 5% concentrations. The price of Benzac-AC gel versions is Rs. 67 & Rs. 74.
Other options are given below. They are all available at medical stores.
- Persol (2.5% benzoyl peroxide and 5% benozyl peroxide) gel – price Rs. 27 & Rs. 37
- Persol Forte (10% benzoyl peroxide, 5% sulphur) – price Rs. 50
- Periac (2.5% benzoyl peroxide and 5% benozyl peroxide) gel – price Rs. 49 & Rs. 59
- Brevoxyl (4% benzoyl peroxide) cream – price Rs. 93
- Abenz (5% benzoyl peroxide) gel – price Rs. 59
- Actiben (2.5% benzoyl peroxide and 5% benozyl peroxide) gel – price Rs. 30 & Rs. 40
- Akneroxid (5% benzoyl peroxide) gel – Rs. 35Benzoyl peroxide is best used in consultation with a dermatologist. It has side effects ranging from skin irritation to adverse effects on a developing foetus during pregnancy. Also, their accompanying leftlets contain information about how to use them.
Oil Cleansing Method (OCM) for blackheads
Oil Cleansing Method (OCM) primarily uses Castor Oil combined with one other oil. OCM has been said to clear out the pores (hence blackheads) and soak up the skin with “skin-friendly” oils. While that may be true, there are many more reports of acne prone skin breaking out like crazy than there are of any clear benefits of OCM.
Read more about the dangers of Oil Cleansing Method for acne prone skin.
Steaming your face for blackheads
Face steaming can be used to open the pores so blackheads can be extracted.
Take a pot of boiling water and bring your face close enough to feel the steam but not burn your skin. Have a towel covering your head and the edges of the vessel so the steam cannot escape. Steam your face for 10-15 minutes. Steam will loosen up the blackheads. After that, use a scrub or clay mask which to uproot the blackheads.
Face steaming this way can be time-consuming and messy, not to the mention dangerous. It is safer to invest in a facial steamer.
While steaming works for blackhead removal, it can also over-dry the skin if used too often.
Pore Strips to remove blackheads
These days you find some brands in India selling pore strips to remove blackheads on the nose. The idea is to wet the pore strip, stick it to the nose, let the strip dry and then pull it out. The pore strip comes off pulling out blackheads. The first time you use a pore strip, you will be mighty impressed by what you see on the strip – lots of black hair like blackheads.
But there are concerns being raised about the safety of pore strips. It is argued that ripping off the strip can cause removal of the top layer of the skin unnaturally, causing irritation and leaving skin vulnerable to infection and acne.
The pulling action can also enlarge the pores and doing it regularly can destroy a pore’s ability to shrink back to its normal size. So pore strips may be okay for use say once in a couple months if your blackheads are not too bad. But you can avoid using pore strips altogether by using good skin care.
Tretinoin creams for blackheads
Tretinoin creams such as Retino-A work by increasing the skin cell turnover thereby reducing blackheads. Retino-A is one of the stronger acne treatments and if you only have blackheads and not cystic acid / adult acne, then Retino-A can be an overkill because of the extreme care required during its use. Learn how to use Retino-A safely.
Blackhead removal tool
Blackhead extractors can be used for manual extraction of blackheads. These are usually stainless steel sticks with a loop or bowl at the end. These are mostly used during facials at salons and beauty parlours. A blackhead extractor tool is often used after steaming the face. This manual extraction method is not without risk of irritation and scarring, and is best left to the professionals.
There is also an electronic pore cleaner from Panasonic available in India, although it doesn’t do a very good job of pulling out blackheads. The same caveats apply as nose strips.
Home remedies for blackhead removal
Among home remedies, face masks made of egg whites or honey are known to uproot blackheads. Another face mask that can be used is made by mixing milk and nutmeg. Nutmeg or
dalchini jaiphal as it is called in Hindi, is a staple in Indian kitchens.
Scrubbing with baking soda is a very effective home remedy for blackheads.
How to prevent blackheads
Salicylic acid, glycolic acid, tretinoin creams and any other skin care products that unclog pores and keep them clean instead of mechanically pulling out blackheads can help prevent them.